Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

It's a good time for Rock Band 4 (as made famous by Rock Band, Rock Band 2, Rock Band 3, LEGO Rock Band, The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band.)

That's a lot of Rock Band to take in over the span of the four years between the 2007 release of the original band-in-a-box game and the third numbered instalment in 2010.

Between all of those and the seven games released for Activision's Guitar Hero series in the same time period (not counting Band Hero), it's no wonder it's been half a decade between proper releases.

It's been five years since a big box of plastic instruments bundled with a video game has been released, and over two years since Harmonix stopped pumping out regular downloadable songs for Rock Band 3. We've all had time to rest and reflect, maybe purchase one or two of the fancy new consoles on the market.

That's enough of a break. Back to pretending to rock out.

Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

Developed once again by Harmonix of Amplitude fame and published by Mad Catz, a company keen on selling everyone guitar and drum controllers (while supplies last), Rock Band 4 is less a sequel and more a fresh start for the series.

That's a kind way of saying they have stripped away a lot of the bits fans really enjoyed in order to provide a more streamlined experience. For example character creation used to be much more involved -- Harmonix wanted players to really invest themselves in their avatars.

Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

In Rock Band 4 we have a choice of two lanky body types -- masculine and feminine -- and a set selection of head shapes. We still get to dress up our virtual band and style their hair, but there's no deep customisation here.

Instrument specific challenges are gone. Road challenges? Nope. Battle of the Bands? Poof. My beloved keyboard tracks? Pretty sure Harmonix took them out just to make me cry.

What we're left with is what some might consider a more "pure" Rock Band experience. We can "Play a Show", "Go On Tour" or "Quickplay". That's it. Harmonix could certainly add more in future game updates, but for now those options are what we have to play with.

I'd be more disappointed if not for the game's role-playing-ish Tour Mode. Each step along the road to fame and fortune the band (Endangered Anarchy in my case) is given choices that determine how the next batch of gigs is going to go. Do they pool their meager cash together to purchase a beat up van to branch out from their hometown, gaining more fans and retaining the ability to choose (or vote for) their own set lists, or join up with an even cheaper manager for the promise of more money but less creative control?

Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

Over the course of the tour a story unfolds, and hilarity often ensues. Maybe the band has to play with borrowed instruments because they were stolen out of the shoddy van. Perhaps they have to wear specific clothes due to a deal with a fashion blogger. It's the most fun I've had with a campaign mode in Rock Band, and I can't wait to play through again to see where the opposite choices take us.

But first I'm going to gather a ton of downloadable songs to pad the game's 65 on-disc tracks. After years of DLC and importing songs from earlier games, it's hard to go back to a limited set list, especially during a prolonged touring session. Thank goodness downloadable songs from previous generations of the game are available for re-download or purchase (one at a time), and once Harmonix makes previously imported collections from older games available for download I'll be golden.

Until then I'll get to experience both new songs and old with my new arch nemesis, the freestyle guitar solo.

Along with giving vocalists the ability to use their own freeform melodies at higher difficulty levels, the freestyle guitar solo is Rock Band 4's biggest innovation. At points in songs that feature guitar solos (and that includes all of the older downloadable songs), the regular note track is replaced with a series of guidelines for improvising their own stringed masterpiece. Follow the guides and they keep their combo going. Or they can just go crazy for the sake of crazy.

The idea here is the mechanic is built so no matter what the guitarist does, the freestyle solo melds properly with the rest of the band. I've not found this to be the case.

I guess it's close most of the time? I imagine in the hands of a plastic guitar virtuoso this feature will be utilised to create some amazing masterworks.

I turned it off. I need not this freedom. Give me pure music.

The music in Rock Band 4 ... well, different people have different musical tastes. I might get excited about the inclusion of Live's "All Over You" while someone else is thrilled about Elvis' "Suspicious Minds." We like the songs we like.

But over the years I've come to appreciate Rock Band and its ilk as the music discovery engines they are. I'm trapped in a game with an incredibly eclectic mix of music, and no matter how many times I luck out with something recognisable, eventually I'm going to have to play "Dead Black (Heart of Ice)", and maybe I'll enjoy it. Some of the unfamiliar songs from past installments have transformed my musical taste completely, and these are songs I never would have heard otherwise.

So the best critical response to Rock Band 4's track listing is I wish it were larger -- but that's just a smaller room to be trapped in. I've already got some new favourites, as well as a couple of songs I despise even greater than before. Looking at you, "Uptown Funk".

Rock Band 4: The Kotaku Review

Check out the full Rock Band 4 song list here

"It's more Rock Band," I've been telling friends and family inquiring about Rock Band 4. Though it's been five years since the last release and four since I've played regularly, it feels as if I just picked up my guitar and continued where I left off. The core game is the same. The plastic Fender Stratocaster feels the same in my hands. The drums have the same muted thump, their surface the same cat-hair magnet material as before.

There are features missing. There are songs from older releases I long to play ("Maps" -- dear god I need "Maps"). There's no longer a reason to dig my keyboard controller from under the couch. And, should I re-enable the feature, there's a chance my guitar might sound like an orgy of howling cats.

But the desire has returned, as if it never left. I sit in front of the television at the end of a long day. I look to my wife. She reaches for the microphone. My fingers curl around the neck of a fake guitar. It's a good time for Rock Band 4.


    My copy is arriving today. Excite!

    I so want to get this game and was planning on buying the full band set as my instruments are getting a bit old and dodgy but Mad Catz wont let me. Who has au$500 that they can just drop on the game. Its ridiculous not to mention the fact that pretty much the only place selling it is EB games. I would have happily given them my money as I already have a tonne of dlc etc to fix the small setlist problem but because of Mad Catz they are not going to see a penny.

      Even the guitar only bundle at $250 is just excessive, especially when the Guitar Hero Live bundle is $150. GH Live is starting to look real tempting to me.

    Mine too, it's with the courier now! WANT! Been playing vocals only on the digital version since Tuesday.

      How did you get the digital version, I couldnt find it

        It went up yesterday or the day before; it's on the store now.

    I was planning to ignore RB4 since I couldn't use my Roland drum kit, but people are reporting that the MIDI Pro Adapter works on PS4 so I'm back in!

    Shame about the delay - was hoping to bust it out for a party this weekend. Still, only another week. Very excited.

    That's exactly how I feel about the setlist. It's a little smaller, and filled with stuff I've never heard of, but then again, that's half the reason I play Rock Band; to listen to, and hopefully discover, new music to eventually go searching for on Spotify (or in some cases here, Bandcamp.)

    This one isn't made famous by AC/DC Rock band?

    I guess it wont bring Rock band "Back in Black" then?
    "For those about to Rock (Band)" AC/DC wont be saluting you
    There's no "Big Gun" songs on this set list
    I'd like to be a "Fly on the Wall" at Harmonix when they came up with this reboot idea, but these music games its all "Who made who" really!

    it also seems to be impossible to buy just the game for the Xbone. I already have a tonne of plastic instruments that work perfectly fine, so I'd rather not have to shell out money for yet more guitars and drums, but using old wireless guitars means having the buy the dongle that goes with it, which alas also isn't available for sale in Australia. Also, not all the DLC from previous titles works yet. Plus it's impossible to buy more than 1 guitar for those that want to actually have a proper band.

    What a clusterfuck.

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